What it felt like to face the man who sexually abused me in court

It felt strong. It felt brave. It felt powerful.

It also felt sad. Unexpectedly, desolately sad.

I’ve always said “When I have an emotion, I’m usually last to know.” That’s not really true of me anymore, but for years I was always reacting to Big Feelings but almost never knowing which feelings, or why.

I’m sure the reasons are as mixed as any other complex human thing… autism, toughness, pride, and shame are a few… but “Coach Mike” Spiller was the biggest reason to be sure. When you’re a kid, adults are supposed to be trustworthy and take care of you, and when they don’t, it’s a sick spiral from there to complete self-alienation. From then on, I learned to ignore my feelings, no matter how big, and especially the bad ones. Those hurt!

Feelings, I learned, were confusing. Feelings would take you places you didn’t want to go. Feelings upset other people. They made people not like you, or they made you vulnerable to other people too, or both. What’s more, I learned from Coach Mike, feelings are not to be trusted. In fact, if feelings are unreliable, why not just cut them off altogether?

Here I stood, forty years later, in a courtroom, directly in front of this person who changed the course of my life. To his sad-eyed yet steely face and to the faces of strangers in the courtroom, I explained right out loud– in public and in detail!– exactly how his actions affected my life.

Having spent most of the years since his crime telling myself that it hadn’t really affected me much at all, this was all-new material. I stood there and listed problem after problem.
My personal record of fuckups and long-ways-around.
A CV of failures.
My litany of lament.

I stood and read this aloud, less than twenty feet away from this old man in prison stripes and a brand-new cheap haircut. This man who told little me I was special (the words I still most long to hear) when he really meant I was an object he would soon be using.

I’m a professor, and in my years teaching writing, I’ve learned the power of reading your writing aloud. I have students do this all the time. There’s nothing like it. This magic thing can happen when you read, audibly and straight from the page, something that you have written. When you hear your words aloud in your own embodied voice, they sound different than they did in your mind’s voice. They’re your words, written by you, and yet hearing yourself read them makes them “other” somehow. Reading your own writing aloud makes you be an audience-you along with the author-you. What’s extra weird about this is that author-you knows things that audience-you does not. Eerily, you then can hear yourself saying things to yourself that feel like new information; you realize things about your topic that you didn’t understand until you wrote them. To yourself.

Last week in the Kendall County courthouse, I heard myself saying words that I had tried so hard for so long to pretend were untrue. I heard myself counting all at once the total price, costs I have long known about and talked about but never had quite laid out in one itemized bill.

I heard myself say “I have been profoundly harmed.” That “life has been harder than it should have been.” And that I would have liked to know who I would have grown up to become otherwise.

I love me, but damn, I would have liked to know that person. And I never will. I am sad about that.

[Here’s a short recap of the day from KHOU Houston. And here’s other media from court and from before that.]

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